A seriously important link, thanks once again to Mr Furtado, to an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education in the US: http://chronicle.com/free/v55/i04/04b01001.htm
Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind - Slow reading counterbalances Web skimming
by Mark Bauerlein.
"When Jakob Nielsen, a Web researcher, tested 232 people for how they read pages on screens, a curious disposition emerged. Dubbed by The New York Times "the guru of Web page 'usability,'" Nielsen has gauged user habits and screen experiences for years, charting people's online navigations and aims, using eye-tracking tools to map how vision moves and rests. In this study, he found that people took in hundreds of pages "in a pattern that's very different from what you learned in school." It looks like a capital letter F...."
The article concludes:
"We must recognize that screen scanning is but one kind of reading, a lesser one, and that it conspires against certain intellectual habits requisite to liberal-arts learning. The inclination to read a huge Victorian novel, the capacity to untangle a metaphor in a line of verse, the desire to study and emulate a distant historical figure, the urge to ponder a concept such as Heidegger's ontic-ontological difference over and over and around and around until it breaks through as a transformative insight — those dispositions melt away with every 100 hours of browsing, blogging, IMing, Twittering, and Facebooking. The shape and tempo of online texts differ so much from academic texts that e-learning initiatives in college classrooms can't bridge them. Screen reading is a mind-set, and we should accept its variance from academic thinking. Nielsen concisely outlines the difference: "I continue to believe in the linear, author-driven narrative for educational purposes. I just don't believe the Web is optimal for delivering this experience. Instead, let's praise old narrative forms like books and sitting around a flickering campfire — or its modern-day counterpart, the PowerPoint projector," he says. "We should accept that the Web is too fast-paced for big-picture learning. No problem; we have other media, and each has its strengths. At the same time, the Web is perfect for narrow, just-in-time learning of information nuggets — so long as the learner already has the conceptual framework in place to make sense of the facts.""
But you probably didn't actually read that extract, just scanned it for key words, your eyes passing over it in an F shape apparently. Click on the link and then print out the rest. I'll certainly be re-reading this as we prepare for our New Ways with Words project to make digital literature resources for schools. Meanwhile things are moving too fast to make lasting generalisations about what the web is or isn't good for, as technology and our relationship to it evolve.
Illustration: Our roving reporter, Overleaf Paperclip, drops in at the Snowbookshop in Second Life in search of linear narrative